Meghna Amonkar’s transition from the corporate world to the entrepreneurial one – starting ‘Pet-Traits’, where she draws portraits of pets – began because she wanted to understand her pet dog, Taco.
This led her to unearth a latent pet calling, of studying animal communication and canine behaviour which has helped her connect with other animals, too.
Since then, she says this career trajectory has helped her bond better with Taco and watch the pet grow as she gets to spend more time with him, and he is always around to inspire, cheer and take away her stress.
Her love for animals has been so constant that even her collection of ceramic pottery (a field into which she ventured a couple of years ago, after Pet-Traits) too has animals figuring quite prominently.
PET PORTRAITS – AN UNCOMMON PROFESSION
When Meghna started Pet-Traits in 2018, it was quite a unique concept in India. She says, “There were a few portrait artists, who also painted pets on request, but I don’t think there was anyone who painted pet portraits exclusively.”
What started as a passion project connected the dots between her skills, as a digital designer, and her love for animals and art.
She recalls her student days, “When I was at a crossroads to decide on the academic field that I would take up, it was a choice between veterinary science and art college.”
“I ended up choosing art college because I was not emotionally strong enough to become a vet; something I realised when I visited the animal hospital with my first dog. But, as they say, life comes full circle and I eventually found a way to work with animals,” she shares.
She says it’s heartening to see more people venturing into pet portraits in India and feels it’s a good time to be in the profession.
“The pandemic saw a steep rise in the number of people choosing to bring home companion animals, and so the pet industry in India has grown exponentially. Of course, the love for pets should be a prerequisite because to paint a portrait, you need a soul connection with your subject.”
RATAN TATA’S FURRY FRIEND, ‘GOA’
The Bombay House series of pet portraits were very special for Meghna as it gave her a platform to highlight her strong belief in the concept of ‘adopt don’t shop’ and also made her dream of a lifetime come true when Ratan Tata decided to come and see them in person.
She narrates the experience and journey of this series painting as well painting Tata’s pet dog, ‘Goa’ – a dog who “decided to get adopted and got into the car of a senior Tata executive, who was visiting Goa and rode back with him to Bombay House!”
“For over two decades, I worked with Tata Interactive Systems, a leading e-learning company that was a part of the Tata group. Whenever I had the opportunity to visit Bombay House for work, I remember being greeted by some lovely Indie dogs who would be lounging happily at the entrance,” she recalls.
“It was a well-known fact in the Tata world that the dogs were sheltered there and came and went as they pleased, thanks to Sir Ratan Tata who is known to be a dog-lover,” she continues.
In August 2018, she remembers reading an article that described how the redecoration of Bombay House included the addition of a kennel space, specially created for the dogs of Bombay House.
“That really touched my heart,” she says, adding, “And, I did something impulsive and wrote a heartfelt letter to Mr Tata thanking him for everything he did for the streeties.”
Says she, “I had also heard about the animal care hospital that the Tata Group was building and expressed my desire to be associated with the initiative if they felt that my skills could be put to any use for the initiative. I never expected a reply, but got one saying that they would reach out to me if there was an opportunity.”
She goes on, “Soon after, by the end of October 2018, I quit my job to start Pet-Traits. I reached out to Mr Tata’s office again and got a chance to meet Shantanu Naidu, who was managing the animal care hospital project.”
“That’s when the idea of painting a series of the ‘Dogs of Bombay House’ came up. I felt that portraits of the Bombay House dogs and especially ‘Goa’, who was Mr Tata’s favourite, would be perfect to spread the message of ‘adopt, don’t shop’,” she shares.
Meghana describes further, “I painted a solo portrait of ‘Goa’ – which Sir Tata signed – and two more showing some of the dogs standing at a window of the kennel room and a few relaxing on a giant bed that’s part of the furniture in the room. These portraits were on display for a month at the flagship branch of Starbucks, which is close to Bombay House.”
Many have seen, and can even imagine, an artist painting a person. Is it similar to painting a pet?
Meghna answers, “I’m a very detail-oriented person and so, it’s important for me to capture everything. I start by asking about the pet’s name, age, gender, personality, likes and dislikes, favourite activities, routine, etc.”
She says since it’s practically impossible to paint a pet live. She asks for a lot of photos and videos, as they help her visualise the pet doing everything that’s being described.
“My style is hyper-realistic, so every small detail like the pigmentation on the snout or the exact eye colour, is important to me. It’s these details that make each animal unique. I may sometimes refer to multiple pictures to capture these details accurately,” she explains.
“Most times, pet parents are happy to share all the details I ask for because who doesn’t like to talk about their babies, right? I don’t let a portrait go unless I feel that the eyes speak to me. If I can’t capture the right expression in the portrait’s eyes, I feel that my job is not done,” she says.
MEDIUM OF PAINTING
A pet portrait costs upwards of about Rs 10-12k and depends on the size of the portrait and number of subjects. Meghna’s preferred medium for painting is digital art.
She explains, “I have graduated from art school with a major in Illustration, meaning I have considerable experience with traditional media as well. My style is old school, so I stay away from filters and air brushing tools as I like my strokes to retain the rough edges and slight imperfections that come from a human touch.
“I work in Photoshop using a Wacom tablet that gives me super-sensitive control to create the fine detailing that I love. I use acrylic and pastel brushes. I have customised a set of brushes based on my preferences. Digital art is one of the most misunderstood forms of art, and now, with the coming in of AI tools, it sometimes gets more confusing for people,” she adds.
“Some people think that the software does all the work for you, which couldn’t be further from the truth. The only difference between digital art and traditional art is that you hold a stylus on a tablet in place of a brush; every stroke is manually painted,” she continues.
"A keen eye will know that a portrait, painted by an artist, is very different from the output given by a generator app or filters. As a personal choice, I like painting the entire portrait from scratch, starting with the outline, followed by the base coat and then adding details, layer by layer. I’m not a fan of painting over photographs.”
AMONKAR’S GOA LINKS
Meghna’s surname reveals her Goan connection. “My father-in-law is from Goa. He spent his childhood there in a village, called Chikhli, and moved to Mumbai when he was in grade 9. Although he has spent most of his life in Mumbai, his love for his birthplace is evident from the way he talks about it.”
Feeling a strong sense of belonging in Goa, she says, “Even when I visited for the Goa Potters Fest this year, I was lucky enough to be hosted by friends and family, who are from Goa and who showed me some beautiful places that only locals would know about.”
She adds, “There isn’t much left of the old family home to see, but it’s nice to know about the history. If you let your imagination fill in the details that are not visible today, you feel an automatic connection with the place.”
If you want to get a pet portrait done, Meghna Amonkar can be contacted via:
WhatsApp: +91 98200 08583